Do dogs get chiggers, and if so, how can you keep chiggers off dogs? To answer the first question, yes, dogs can get chiggers just like humans do. These pesky parasites don't mind whether they are climbing up on people or on our four-legged companions. And just as it happens in people, chiggers on dogs can wreck havoc, causing dogs to develop bouts of annoying, severe itching. Knowledge is ultimately power, and therefore getting better acquainted with these parasites can help us better learn how to avoid them and how to get rid of them.
A Word About Chiggers
Chiggers also known as berry bugs, harvest mites, red bugs or scrub-itch mites are skin parasites that are commonly found throughout the central and southeastern United States, Mexico, Western Europe and Eastern Asia. These mites basically live almost everywhere from semi-desert areas to swamps!
What do they look like? Adult chiggers are reddish-hued mites that are very tiny, so tiny that you may need a magnifying glass to spot them. At times,though you may be able to readily spot them when they are walking on light-colored concrete.
While they are mites, chiggers are related to ticks, but the good news is that they do not carry diseases like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever as ticks do.
The parasites go by the scientific name of Trombicula mite and the condition of being affected by chiggers is known as "trombiculiasis." Encounters with chiggers are most likely during the early summer when grasses and weeds are growing and people and dogs enjoy staying outdoors.
The problems with chiggers is when they are in larvae stage. Larvae feed on skin cells and therefore they will attach to humans, dogs or any other animals passing by. Don't expect though to see these larvae on your dog, chigger larvae are nearly microscopic measuring just about 1/60 of an inch! Just imagine that you can likely fit about six chigger larvae in the period at the end of this sentence.
Chiggers are a problem only when they are larvae. Once the larvae mature into adults, these mites are pretty much harmless to people and dogs considering that they convert to eating solely insect eggs and other insects.
Did you know? Chiggers aren't actually, insects, but arachnids, just like spiders. Adult chiggers have indeed eight legs, but the larvae form have only six.
Signs of Trouble
How can you tell whether your dog is infested with chiggers? Well, with them being so tiny and your dog being covered with hair, the likeliness of having any luck on spotting them are pretty dim. However, you can't miss the clinical signs they produce, which often means intense itching!
There's a reasonable explanation for the itching. Once the larvae crawl on the dog, they will inject under the skin special digestive enzymes that are meant to break down skin cells for an easy meal.
This results in severe itching that is mostly seen concentrated on ground-skin contact areas such as the dog's legs, head and abdomen. The intense itching typically starts about 3 to 6 hours after exposure. However, not all dogs react to the itching.
Dogs may then develop about 10 to 16 hours later these little red bumps (papules) that are crusty. Some dogs may even develop an allergic reaction with hives and facial swelling.
While red bumps seen on a dog's skin may be a sign of chiggers, it's important to consider that there are several other skin conditions that may cause such bumps (allergies, bacterial skin infection, yeast skin infection, flea bites, scabies), hence the importance of seeing the vet for proper diagnosis. Also, consider that on top of the bumps, some dogs may develop a secondary pyoderma which is a superficial bacterial infection that can develop as a consequence from the continuous scratching.
Did you know? Chiggers don't actually bite; rather, they create a hole that's called a stylostome (see picture above) through which they chew up particles of inner skin.
Getting Rid of Dog Chiggers
As seen, being barely visible, chiggers are quite difficult to prevent. Dogs will be dogs and will enjoy walking through grasses and chiggers will be chiggers and will want to crawl to get their meals.
As of date, there are only very few specific products sold that are labeled for chigger prevention in dogs. Fortunately though, getting rid of chiggers once they are on your dog is not a difficult task.
If you suspect your dog has chiggers, see your vet. Armed with a scraped sample of skin from your dog and a microscope, your vet can identify the parasite.
If chiggers are not found, then your vet will run further tests to eliminate other potential conditions. If chiggers are actually found, your vet can prescribe anti-parasitic sprays, dips or topical spot-on drugs containing fipronil or permethrin (which is not safe nor effective in cats!).
If your dog is itching, a soothing oatmeal bath may be helpful, but your vet may suggest an antihistamine to relieve it, but in cases of more severe itching, the use of steroids may be needed. Dogs who have developed secondary skin infections instead may require a course of antibiotics.
The good news is that the condition of being infested with chiggers is self limiting if the dog is kept out of infested areas. Typically, after the larvae get fully fed (after 3 to 4 days of feasting) they will fall off from the dog and go through the rest of their life cycles.
Generally, when the dog is kept off of the infested area, it may take about a week or so for the inflammation to resolve. If the dog seems to be getting more and more lesions, there are chances he is being repeatedly re-infested from exposure in the environment. If feasible, it may help to avoid walking the dog through tall grasses or shrubs, and staying on paths.
And for those wondering whether people can get chiggers from dogs and whether dogs can get chiggers from people, the answer is that they are not contagious, but infested areas are a potential source of infestation for other dogs, cats, and humans, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin.
"The thing called a chigger,
is really no bigger,
than the smaller end of a pin,
but the bump that it raises,
just itches like blazes,
and that's where the rub sets in."
~H.B. Hungerford, entomologist.
- DVM360: Update: Diagnosis and control of mite infestations in dogs and cats (Proceedings)
- Wikipedia, A diagram of the stylostome, or the hardened tube of dead cells formed by chiggers (Larval form of the trombiculidae) when feeding on them. Bugboy52.40 - Own work Public Domain